Saturday, August 7, 2010

A global issue on my back porch

I have been debating for several weeks about whether or not to write about this topic because it is such a sensitive one, but given that none of you know the individuals involved, I think it should be ok.
I have mentioned before that HIV/AIDS is a huge problem in Namibia. 20% of people are infected. As a result, there are a lot of programs from the government and independent organizations geared towards raising awareness and education. My kids are bombarded with information about the disease. They have to listen to plays, hear songs, read magazines, see posters, watch shows, and see commercials about it every day. Even every single school subject’s syllabus contains ways that HIV can be worked into the class materials. As a result, they know a lot. Kids who can barely speak English know the ABCs of prevention (abstain, be faithful, condomize) and are brought up to talk openly about the disease. I mentioned before that there is a small gap between knowledge and ability to apply the knowledge (my 6th graders knew all about condoms but didn’t know the technicalities of how sex actually works…) but that’s probably ok given how young they are, and they still understand the social situations involved.
I find it very interesting that some of the topics that are continually addressed are not necessarily things that would be focused on back in the states. I’m not sure if I mentioned this before but cheating is rampant (many men have girlfriends in several different towns who know about each other and are fine with it) so obviously the idea of being faithful is addressed a lot and is not a ‘relationship assumption’ that people here would make. Another interesting difference is the focus on sugar daddies. This is mostly (I feel) almost a joke back home, but here, where so many people are impoverished, it is a reality. This borderline prostitution involves men (usually older men) buying clothes, food, electronics or just giving money to young girls for sex.
Unfortunately, I got a chance to see how all of these are still a continuing reality recently when it was discovered that a man in my community (someone I know, he is generally seen as a pretty upstanding citizen- doesn’t drink, has a family and is in a serious relationship) was having a sugar daddy relationship with a learner. They were found out when she came home with a brand new cell phone and her suspicious parents followed her when she went to meet him. The man has known that he is HIV positive for five years. He and the young girl have been having unprotected sex for almost two years. She is one of my learners, in fact one of the ones that I am closest to (not one that I have blogged about). She is 12 years old.
The family is pressing charges, although there are rumors that things will be ‘sorted out’ through the traditional authorities instead of through the police. The man was fired from his job. She is going to a nearby town to be tested for HIV and to take a pregnancy test. She continues to visit me fairly often but dropped out of school last week.

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